Staley’s Bears 1920-1921
Walter Irvin “Pard” Pearce
Height: 5’5 Weight: 150
Born: 10/23/1896 Providence, RI
Died: 5/24/1974 Newport, RI
High School: Classical (Providence, RI)
Morris Heights Prep (Morris Heights, NJ)
In the spring and summer of 1919 U.S. Navy veteran “Pard” Pearce played shortstop for the Rockford Rox in the Three I baseball league under the pseudonym “Dwyer”. He had great hopes of soon playing major league baseball for the Chicago National League ball club. Ironically he never played for Cubs, but three years later this Penn football halfback played quarterback for the Chicago Bears in the newly formed National Football League.
Perhaps young Walter Pearce got his nickname “Pard” early on from his real estate broker father, Walter Irvin Pearce, Sr. Unfortunately Walter Sr. died several years before Pard entered Classical High School in Providence and didn’t get to witness his son receiving letters in football, hockey and baseball. Pard entered the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1917 and played on the freshman baseball team that next spring. He was working at the Hog Island shipbuilding plant [at the time the largest shipyard in the world and today the site of the Philadelphia International Airport] when inducted into the U.S. Navy on July 27, 1918. After his discharge the following January he looked for a baseball opportunity and found it in the Rockford, Illinois minor league team playing against his future Staley teammate, Charlie Dressen. Since Pearce planned to go back to Penn – to at least play sports if not get a business degree – he played summer baseball in 1919 under the name “Dwyer” in hopes of not losing his college athletic eligibility. The Chicago Cubs thought he had enough potential to ask him to come to the next spring training.
In the fall of 1919 Pard reenrolled at Penn and wore the red and blue as a halfback on the varsity football team. But just before the Thanksgiving week game Coach Folwell declared him ineligible when he found out that Pearce had received money for playing baseball earlier that year. Banned from participating in future sports at Penn, Pearce dropped out of college and never returned. In the spring of 1920 he was cut by the Cubs and played 129 games back at Rockford before joining up with George Halas and playing baseball at the end of the summer with the Staley factory team. Next came football and the former halfback became the first string QB for the Decatur Staleys starting all 13 games and receiving over $1400 in bonus money in addition to his factory salary.
In the spring of 1921 Pearce was on the baseball rosters of Reading, PA, and Rochester, NY, of the International League but saw little or no playing time. He returned to the Staley gridiron that fall and started 8 of the 12 games as the team moved from Decatur to Chicago and won the American Professional Football Association championship. In 1922 Pard played minor league baseball for Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League and then was backup quarterback to Joey Sternaman on the first Chicago Bears’ NFL team.
He spent the 1923 and 1924 baseball seasons playing for Salt Lake City in the PCL and finished his pro football career as a substitute for the Kenosha Maroons in 1924 and Providence Steam Roller team in 1925. Staying in Providence he continued playing semi-pro baseball, officiating sporting events and becoming a teacher. He served as football and baseball coach at Pawtucket East High School [RI] in the 1930s; then a physical education teacher at North Attleboro, MA; and finally in 1944 as a coach and teacher at Providence Central High School until his retirement in 1965. Most likely he is the only Bears’ player to have ever coached fencing!
Pearce served as president of the Rhode Island Football Officials organization and in 1965 was awarded the association’s trophy “for service to Rhode Island schoolboy football.” He retired from football officiating just after turning 77 years old and collapsed and died while umpiring a high school baseball game on May 24, 1974 on the same field in Providence that he competed on forty years earlier. Pard Pearce lived and died doing what he loved. He left behind his wife, the former Grace Cochrane.
Copyright ©2015 Mark W. Sorensen